Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Car Free Experiment – 9 months long

We've been about 9 months without a car!

Now that is the truth but... it isn't the truth. We have had the loan of one car for a week while neighbours were away last Christmas in exchange for keeping their sidewalk clear of snow, we have had the loan of a friend's car this spring for a few days while they traveled so they didn't have to worry about overnight parking issues in their area and we have borrowed Natasha's car a couple of times for short errands.

We have also rented a car a few times. We've been to the camp four times with a rented car and the trip to Grand Mannan New Brunswick was also in a rented car. With air conditioning, what a treat!

Another bit of untruth is that we have the '62 Volkswagon from May to October.

We have been getting up at 6:45 a.m. on Saturdays to get to the market to beat the tourist crowds. To walk down would mean getting up at 6:00 a.m. so we have driven. Seems odd that we drive in the summer and walk in the winter but that sort of sums up our life.

I can't decide if having a historic car qualifies as having a car. In order to keep the special license and low insurance we can't drive the car more than once a week and it is supposed to be to a car event, not the market. Don't tell. But does having a specialty car count as having a car the way most people have? We don't drive to work, Steve bikes or walks and I work out of the house. Most errands are done on Shank's Mare (by foot)and there are many things we don't do as a result. We don't drive to a park for hikes, we rarely drive out to the malls or movie theatres, we aren't driving kids to any events or sports and we walk to friend's homes when we visit.

We looked at the local Car Share option

and concluded that it doesn't really work for us. We need the car on Saturdays at the crack of dawn for the market and then to run a few short errands and we are done by Saturday 10:00 a.m. This is the hot time for car use and it has to be booked well in advance. The expectation is that we wouldn't get the car in the car share program half the time. The cost of the car share is more than taking a taxi to and from the market plus using a taxi once more during the week.

Taking a taxi is cheaper but we have trouble getting our heads around it. Maybe because the short trips need cash and the phoning and waiting for a taxi isn't part of our habits yet? In lots of big cities, the behaviour needed to use a taxi as a regular transportation device is second nature. We've been to the market a few times last winter, all ready to call a cab to go home in when we realized we hadn't brought the cell phone. That meant finding a public phone. That meant we were halfway home. Misdirected habits.

What has become interesting is how little we used the cars when we had use of them. Except for the Grand Mannan trip which was mostly about driving, the cars have sat in the driveway. We committed to not adding in car usage. The errands we ran had to be well outside our walking limits or off a bus route. We planned ahead and spent half the day doing errands not scattering them over a week. We haven't investigated using the buses. This speaks to how well located our home is. We have two shopping districts within walking distance, a library, hospital, doctor, dentist, music store, work and entertainment all within two miles. We did plan this 15 years ago. Steve said I don't want to commute to work so we drew a circle equal to two miles on the map around where he would be working and decided whatever was for sale inside that circle was what we would buy. Good idea, good choice!

The only blip in this self-congratulatory assessment has been the camp. We go on weekends during June and July when it is easy to rent a car and reasonably cheap. In August the rates more than double and getting a car is a bit of a challenge since all the tourists are clamouring for one also. To rent a car for 30 days is around $1500 including mileage and insurance. We would still have to pay for gas. This is a little over half of what we paid a year to run the old Toyota and still leaves us with a budget of $1000 to rent the occasional car or take a taxi twice a week.

We anticipated that August and the camp would be the stone in the shoe. In reality, we figured out that we can easily rent a car for the 3 day camp trips. We don't go for longer due to issues around fresh water and sewage. It has been more expensive than we would like, but not as expensive as we thought. It turns out that if we plan 4 – 5 camp trips and pre-book, there isn't any problem for August.

All this amounts to us deciding not to buy a car. We are keeping the car budget line so that we can afford to rent once a month, keep the August plan and use taxis twice a week in the winter.

The past 9 months has taught me that 1) We don't need the car nearly as much as we think we do and 2) how vulnerable people are who live outside of the city. They don't have local stores to pop into. To get to the services they are accustomed to there isn't any choice but to drive. And 3) we become lazy with our cars. By compressing errands, walking more, and reducing expectations a bit, it isn't a struggle to be car-less. Not car-free, that won't work with commuting and kids, but car-less. It is possible to leave the car unused for long periods of time, with a bit of attention and determination.

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